Iraqi Army checkpoints in Shingal still blocking humanitarian aid, journalists

7/24/2019 3:39:11 PM

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Dr. Amy L. Beam
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I went to Tal Ezeer and Gir Zerik, Shingal, Iraq, July 21, 2019, three weeks after I was there filming the fires that destroyed all the crops and grazing land from Kocho west to Siba Sheik Khudir.


The World Bank annual report for 2018 lists Iraq number 171 out of 190 countries in terms of "ease of doing business."  In other words, it is nearly impossible to get anything done in any reasonable length of time. The report also give Iraq a rating of 18 on a scale of 100 for corruption with 100 being not corrupt and 0 being totally corrupt.  Iraqis simply assume that in order to get anything done, they will have to pay someone.  I have steadfastly refused to pay bribes for government services.


It took me two hours and 45 minutes to fight my way past the Iraqi Army checkpoint before Tal Ezeer. This is the third time this happened. The Iraq Army soldier even admitted he knew me from last time. The policy is to stop all foreigners and even Iraqi NGOs and demand that they produce a yellow permission paper from JCMC in Mosul.


I did request this paper in Mosul on June 26, because my last one expired June 29. I was told the NEW POLICY is that all persons wanting permission to travel in Mosul and Nineveh, including Shingal) must go to Baghdad and apply with JCMC. They will then conduct a security check and send approval or denial to Mosul. In theory it takes a few weeks (or maybe never).


When I was in the Army headquarters in Mosul on June 26, the General there told me he would send my request to Baghdad so I would not have to go to Baghdad in person. I was told that the approval came back from Baghdad two weeks ago. Meanwhile, I cannot get a response from Mosul to obtain a new yellow letter of permission. In order to get this letter, when they decide to issue it, I will have to drive three hours in each direction. A total abuse of my time and money.


Regardless of this letter, I spent two months in Baghdad getting a one-year visa which allows me to go anywhere in Iraq to do my work until May 29, 2020.  A ten-day security check was conducted on me.  My legal residence, approved by the National Operations Center in the Prime Minister's Office, is listed in writing as Yarmouk neighborhood, Shingal, Nineveh, Iraq. My profession is writer. The expiration date is 2022. How is it that my travel can be restricted when I legally reside in Shingal?


In spite of this document, the Iraqi Army checkpoint soldiers said they had to check with their commanders who refused me permission. I refused to leave. Finally, the commander arrived and we chatted respectfully for half an hour, took some selfies, exchanged phone numbers, and shook hands. He let me pass and promised to help me at any checkpoint in the future.


Permission to take humanitarian aid and to report on the situation in Shingal should not be by special exception for Amy L Beam. It should be open to the thousands of people who want to help Ezidis in Shingal. I took large sacks of cucumbers and a big crate of ripe tomatoes for the five families.


Not one bit of aid will get to the Ezidis as long as this policy continues. I call upon Baghdad to open the road from Mosul to all villages in Shingal not only to Ezidis, but also to foreigners, without onerous permission requirements from Baghdad. An ID check and a log of who passes would be quite adequate. This is what the YBS does at its checkpoint entering Tal Ezeer.


I arrived in Tal Ezeer and met the five families who returned three and six days ago. The extended families of brothers Khalef Ezeer Khalef and Hussein Ezeer Khalaf sat with me and explained their hard situation. 


They returned from Seji village in Kurdistan, because their father, Ezeer Khalef, founded Tal Ezeer in 1930 at the age of 54. Others followed him and Tal Ezeer grew. Ezeer died at the age of 100.  Ezeer's sons, their wives and their grown children feel it is their duty to return to Tal Ezeer. They have no work and no source of income. They literally lost everything. Khalef's house was destroyed by ISIS. His family now is living in a friend's house. The families live side by side on one street. They are all closely related to one another, representing three generations of the same family. One son is in the YBS, now guarding Tal Ezeer.


I asked who cleared the bombs out of Tal Ezeer. They said it was YBS (Ezidi militia). They said Tal Ezeer still has many bombs in it. They are not aware of bombs being cleared by either G4S or MAG ngo.


The entire town of Tal Ezeer was burned June 28-29, 2019, inside up to the walls of every house. We drove through the whole town to see with our eyes. I assume the fire also reached inside of houses with no doors or windows.


The five returning families receive electricity for 2 or 3 hours per day when YBS turns on their generator and shares electricity with these families. The YBS cannot support any more returning families without a solution for electricity.


Tal Ezeer is not getting government electricity. For miles along the road to Gir Zerik, Tal Ezeer, and Siba Sheik Khudir the electric cables have been stripped from the utility poles. There is no quick or cheap way to restore electricity to these villages.


The YBS delivers water to each family's water tank for free. There is a machine in Tal Ezeer that purifies well water to make clean drinking water. It was there before 2014 and was not destroyed by ISIS.


The wifi signal is very weak and often there is no signal even to make a phone call. There are, of course, no shops to buy bread, food, or any other item. There are no clinics, schools, or gas stations. There is NO ECONOMY IN TAL EZEER. The returning families say unless NGOs and the government come to help them, they will not be able to remain. 


Unless aid is allowed to pass the checkpoints without impossible requirements for permission that take months to receive, it is clear that no one can return to Tal Ezeer.


There are about 5 checkpoints in and at the entrances to Tal Ezeer. They are manned by YBS (Ezidis).


The Baghdad government has given a contract to one company to clean up the streets in Tal Ezeer. About a dozen young men were working. Most, but not all, streets have been cleared of concrete rubble, trash, and dirt. One street was paved with new asphalt. The weeds that had overgrown all the sides streets in 2018, burned in the fire June 28 and the roads are now visible.


Approximately 25% of Tal Ezeer houses are destroyed. All of the houses are damaged, with wiring stripped out and doors and windows gone on many houses. It is media propaganda to suggest that Tal Ezeer residents can return.


Driving east from Tal Ezeer to Gir Zerik, the road has pot holes, is overgrown with weeds, and is totally deserted. And I do mean DESERTED. The only checkpoint is the YBS checkpoint when leaving Tal Ezeer. We did not see one other person or vehicle except for one man who is hired by Asia cell to guard the cell phone tower in Gir Zerik.


Gir Zerik was at least 60% destroyed on August 3, 2014, when it was the first village to be attacked by ISIS. The villagers defended themselves until 7AM when they ran out of ammunition. ISIS launched 250 mortors which destroyed many of the houses and killed about 200 men, women and children.


The fires of June 28-29, 2019, also reached inside the entire town of Gir Zerik. Gir Zerik remains empty, not even worth guarding. There are no checkpoints and no security presence. No one will ever inhabit Gir Zerik again. The explosions that were heard in Gir Zerik when the fires burned it were from exploding IEDs. The barrels of TNT have not been removed.


Returning to Shingal city, on the road from Baaj, we passed miles of burned fields. The fires also consumed Rambousi and Domis.


Thank you to my driver and translator, Ismail Rasho, and thank you to the Iraqi Army commander at the Tal Ezeer checkpoint who finally believed I was there to help, and he let me pass. I reiterate, that I should not be the only foreign humanitarian allowed to visit Shingal. Baghdad needs to change its policy of keeping foreigners and all aid and journalists out of Shingal under the guise of onerous permission requirements.